In looking at why this series is going to flop commercially (and spectacularly so, by the looks of it) despite the fabulous visuals and the fact that it’s an Okada original, I wonder if the fact that you have to completely check your irony at the door to really buy into it is a major factor. This series may just be too earnest for its own good – while there are moeblob series that mostly lack irony that manage to do well (like Tamayura) they do so by obsessively fetishizing the moe – and even most moe series have a sort of de riguer snark to them because it seems to be expected. There’s really none of that with this show – emotionally speaking, what you see is what you get.
No doubt about it, this is one unfashionable anime. I admire its emotional directness because, as I’ve noted, anime tends to be too emotionally subdued for my tastes as a whole. There are some issues with this approach, in the main that far too often the waterworks get cranked up and it seems we can’t get through an episode with a flood of tears (and huge ones they were this week). I wish now that the whole Miuna storyline had been jettisoned because even though it has some real potential, Okada just can’t be trusted with it – she can’t help going saccharine and cloying whenever Miuna is involved. Giving that plot thread and character to Okada is like offering a beer to an alcoholic.
Minus those (re)lapses, though, Nagi no Asukara continues to be one of my go-to shows of the season. It’s even managed to inspire some fine work by unvarnished hack Yoshino Hiroyuki, who penned the simply brilliant seventh episode and also contributed the very solid effort this week. If a broken clock is still right twice a day even in this digital age, Yoshino-sensei has used up his outs – but so far so good, as apart from Miuna’s unintentionally comic scenes this was a very good effort. And while this isn’t his doing, I just want to say again, this show is not just gorgeous but really thoughtful and imaginative visually – just look at the scene where the sea kiddos’ clothes are drying after they get out of their Ena bath. I’m not sure I’ve seen a series that offers so many visual rewards since Hyouka.
Story-wise, I like the way Nagi is chugging along, sticking to its straightforward narrative and tonal style. The two tracks continue apace – we see the building personal drama on the personal side, and the intertwined impending global catastrophe (the details of which are still pretty fuzzy, even to those involved). At the center of both, of course, is Hikari. He’s grown enormously in terms of empathy over the course of the series but he remains, in essence, the same tenacious little pug he was when the show started – he’s not a “float with the current” sort of sea kiddo. He’s a fighter, even if the enemy is the end of the world itself – which always made it seem unlikely he was going to give up on Manaka gracefully. He’s emerged as the leader of a sort of guerrilla-style effort to save the piggies via the Ofunehiki, and now the fishermen’s collective – faed by reduced catches due to the strangely cold summer – has come around to his side.
I quite liked the little details in the scene where the men from the collective asked for Hikari’s forgiveness and appealed to him for help – in Japan, for adult men to behave that way towards a mere boy is enormously difficult. I liked the symbolism of Akari going over to stand with the men begging for Hikari’s help, and I liked the way Hikari showed how much he’s grown by disdaining from doing any crowing or calling out the men for their obvious hypocrisy – he was just happy to know he had a chance to do what he believes he right. But Uroko-sama pops the balloon pretty quickly, telling him that the Ofunehiki won’t make any difference to the Sea God. Even this doesn’t stop the kids from plowing ahead, even as their Ena thickens and the date of their hibernation (the same as that of the proposed Ofunehiki) draws closer. No one seems quite sure what to believe, but everyone seems to agree that things are about to change forever, and there’s a strong impulse to at least go down fighting.
Meanwhile, Kaname’s very smooth confession to Chisaki – not even the arrival of her parents throws him off his game – seems to have been for naught. As bedtime draws closer Chisaki, ironically, draws inspiration from Kaname’s boldness to plan a confession to Hikari. I can’t think she’s going to do any better than he did, and indeed there are signs that Manaka’s conversation with the red-bellied sea slug may have changed her view of Hikari, but the overall feeling is that no one wants to go to sleep with any potential regrets left unaddressed.
I like the message here – it’s a positive one to me, consistent with my belief that most of our regrets end up being things we didn’t do and wish we had, and not the reverse. Once the long sleep comes no one knows what the world on the surface will be like, if everyone will wake up together or even – though no one wants to discuss it – whether everyone will wake up at all. The last wild-card in all this is Akari’s plan to combine the Ofunehiki with her wedding, in effect offering herself up as the sacrifice to the Sea God (which many have surmised based on the OP/ED might end up being Manaka). One way or another I think we’re going to see some major events next week, as it brings the first cour to an end (the show is off on the 26th, a down week for many series) and may, in fact, be the last episode with the cast in its current form.